A lot of people might think a pandemic would be the end of a non-profit social enterprise space. And it’s a fair concern; COVID-19 hit us hard. One day we were sailing along all scrappy and hunky dory, and the next — just like so many of you — we’d lost a huge chunk of our revenue but still had the expense of mortgage payments and staff salaries.
Disaster, right? Well, maybe not.
CSI has always been much more than a physical space. We’re a community. So when the realities of COVID-19 sunk in, our first thoughts were of our members and how we could help them get through it.
As a first step, we conducted a survey to see how they were faring. Among other questions, we asked what their desired rent or membership arrangement would be to help them through these unprecedented times
The answers we got — collected in our CSI COVID-19 Impact Report — were grim but unsurprising. Fewer than half of our members felt they would be able to continue paying their full rent amounts.
So, what do you do? And how do you actually live your values when faced with a situation none of us had ever even imagined?
I actually believe that how all of us conduct ourselves during this pandemic will define how we are judged for years. And so we said to ourselves: This is our community. These are our constituents. These are the people we serve.
The idea that we would actually just evict them is unthinkable. Instead, we did what we’ve done from day one. We turned towards each other and we innovated.
This meant coming back to our core values. And we thought “Which of our values are most important for how we craft a solution to this problem?”
So the first one of course was community and collectivism. If we really are a community, how does the community respond? What does a good community do?
A good community doesn’t leave anyone behind.
At CSI, we have a profound desire to model the world we want. We didn’t want to come in with like “Here is a 20% cut across the board” or say “Well, you’re in or you’re out.” And so it was a really interesting process, because it pushed us back to what really matters. Which is people, and how we work together to solve problems.
I also had faith that our members would want to help out, too. To do what they could, and contribute what they could to the collective.
With this in mind, we offered a range of payment options and turned the idea into a Community Rent Pool – effectively a pay-what-you-can rent model – in an effort to provide maximum flexibility for our members as they grapple with so many challenges that COVID-19 has brought.
When we brought the idea of the Community Rent Pool to our Board of Directors, they were incredibly supportive. They actually gave me permission to be more bold. They told me “Take the Moon Shot, Tonya. Live your values. Step up.”
So we did. We essentially said to our members “You don’t have to pay, but we invite you to pay.” It was a real leap of faith. And so far, we’ve collected about 56% of our revenue. 56% of our dollars are coming in through the community rent pool.
In addition to these funds, we are also getting love letters from members about their fellow members. People are responding and telling us “I wish the rest of the world could be just like CSI?”
That’s the kind of stuff where you just think “Wow”.
And there is a real recognition from our community that the social connection is key. Our connection as people. People do need people and these connections are critical, and that’s who we are.
We are social creatures. And I’m feeling very very proud of our community.